HKCTU E-Newsletter No.7 HKCTU in support of Umbrella Movement
Companions under a stormy sky
Workers holding up umbrellas for democracy and livelihood
The strike led by college students, fighting for the democratic universal suffrage which Hong Kong people well deserve, was attacked by police with tear gas on 28 September 2014. Most of people woke up the next morning to find that Hong Kong was transformed. We were disconcerted by the rampant tyranny, yet be inspired by the courage of our fellow Hongkongers, as a line from Dickens, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” could possibly describe it.
To build a fair and just society, one's rights to participate politically, to improve people's livelihood in a democratic manner, regardless her / his background or class, is always crucial. The HKCTU newsletter has interviewed three workers with different backgrounds, to see if their stories in the Umbrella Movement might echo yours.
[Read all interviews in our website]
Accustomed to struggles, occupation as to safeguard livelihood
Interview with Ka-ho, an occupant from the real estate sector
Ka-ho, a strong guy working in a property agency, has been carrying a big backpack since Occupy Central kicked off. After work, he would go to occupied zones in Admiralty or Mongkok, where he stays till late or sometimes overnights. Inside his backpack, you can find a helmet, gloves, goggles, a mat, some war-game and hiking equipment he used years before. Since the last month, he has been carrying them to work everyday.
Ka-ho takes care of rental issues in a property agency. After graduating from a university, he joined a property agency, hoping to learn how the property market works. He was first working in the area of property management and later joins the rental department. “My main task is to rent out the properties of the company, by coming up with prices agreed by the clients.”
HKCTU in support of
Led by the Hong Kong Federation of Students, Scholarism and Occupy Central with Peace and Love, the Umbrella Movement is also well supported by activists of the social movement and labour movement, each plays her/his role devotedly. The HKCTU has been facilitating the Movement attentively and some of its works have not been made public. The following paragraphs document the participation of HKCTU's committee members and its staff members, to ensure their efforts would not be forgotten.
[Read all interviews in our website]
People under the “stage”
Under the footbridge to Admiralty Centre in the Occupied Zone of Admiralty, a small stage was set up and named as the “grand stage”. The role of grand stage is to release news and host sharing sessions every night. W.S, an officer of the HKCTU is one of the volunteers running the grand stage. The volunteers plan the daily thematic sharing and contact the relevant speakers to come to the sharing. She remembers her work on 8th and 9th November the most. There were times when some others were trying to crack down the grand stage. On one hand, they questioned the grand stage's legitimacy, while on the other hand, they attempted to occupy the grand stage for their own speeches. Such an illogical attempt was seen as a mean to destruct the movement. The grand stage indeed reserves time for free discussions and volunteers like W.S. have been working as a bridge between the people and the conductor on the stage.
Pickets to block the movement breakers
Wah-hei, a committee member of the Personal And Community Services Workers General Union serves as a picket, to keep order and manage the crowd. It might sound easy but in fact, he faces challenges every day. Sometimes there are tens of thousands of participants in an action and conflicts are inevitable, “if they are not crossing the line or affecting others, in general, we won't interfere.” he says. Yet, pickets would actively surround and block those, who intentionally come to the occupied zone to make troubles. “Once, the blue ribbons (anti-occupation) gang came to make troubles. We, the pickets organized a human chain to block them away from several hundred occupants. We were in a stalemate for almost an hour. When work hours of the blue ribbons gang are up, they just left.”
Bar-bender couple at the resources centre
Many of our activists have been working behind the scene in this movement, such as Wong Wai-man, a committee member of the Bar Bending Solidarity Union and his wife Maggie. In 2007, Wong led a 36-day strike of bar benders and now, Mr and Mrs Wong decided to stay behind, to help sorting and distributing resources, registering information of borrowers of tents and sleeping bags. Seeing a some-60-day occupation, Wong is worried. “Resources were pouring in in the beginning and now, they are torn and worn.” In any case, the Wong’s dedication to the movement, “we hope that the public could wake up and stand firm.”
Legal support team for detainees at the front-line
When police starts to detain protestors, there is a legal support volunteer team, who dress themselves in green to provide legal support, arrange lawyers to go to the police station and safeguard detainees' rights. Ngai, a HKCTU officer is one of them.
Being at front-line, Ngai observes a worrying trend of police's excessive use of force. On the night of 15th October, the police has driven the protestors from Lung Wo Road to Tamar Park. As everyone would have expected the police to stop using force at that point, “we can't believe that the police would keep hitting protestors with batons. Many protestors, without any resistance, were subdued by the police on the ground. These measures could only take place when the police was arresting armed suspects in the past, but are now imposed on unarmed citizens.”
Civil disobedience comes with a price and the participants are aware of the potential consequences they would have to bear. “Here is a very sad line, the only price for freedom is freedom.' Ngai lamented. Over the past decades, the Hong Kong people had tried every way to lobby for a democratic future, yet the Government failed to put forward a fair and democratic political reform proposal. The Umbrella Movement opens an era that the Hong Kong people have waken up from illusions and are trying to take back their future, through civil disobedience.
Democracy and labour rights blocked! Who can clear it up?
Mung Siu-tat, Chief Executive of Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions
I took part in the civil disobedience action to protect the Occupied Zone on 11 December 2014 and was arrested in Harcourt Road. The police escorted me to Kwai Chung Police Station and my charges are unlawful assembly and obstructing the work of police. I am now on bail on my own recognizance and will have to report to the police station in early January.
Some might say, yesterday’s action was to complete the last step of civil disobedience, namely, to bear legal responsibility and the consequences of our resistance, to uphold the rule of law. Sorry! That is not how I see it. I must clarify that I went out yesterday, not for the above-mentioned purpose. When rich people could make use of injunctions to eliminate the voices of the powerless, when China’s National People’s Congress could override the courts and make arbitrary interpretation of the Basic Law, I cannot convince myself that bearing legal responsibility of these unjust laws (including Public Order Ordinance) can be beneficial to the justice. I simply do not see the rule of law in the midst of these laws.
Some memories kept coming back to me, when I was waiting for the police’s clearance at the Occupied Zone: in 2007, the barbenders blocked Ice House Street, where the old government headquarters used to be, to protest against Matthew Cheung, Secretary of Labour and Welfare Bureau, who turned a blind eye to workers’ hardship; in 2013, dock workers were ordered to leave the dock they had worked day and night as the employer applied an injunction from court, and etc. Many of my colleagues from the labour movement joined the last civil disobedience action in Admiralty, to carry out a belief that we unionists have been convinced and shared, from the barbenders’ strike, dockers’strike and many other labour movements.
We believe that laws should not override democracy and labour rights which we are entitled to. In fact, we should be particularly alerted, when laws are becoming a tool of the rich and the government. Workers are not going to be limited by unjust laws. If we obey injunctions and Public Order Ordinance each time, we cannot organize any collective action to fight for our dignity.
After nearly two decades in the labour movement, probably a fourth of my whole life, I have witnessed too much exploitation at workplace and social injustice and I keep being inspired by workers’ resistance. As a trade unionist, my nature is to fight for those who have worked hard honestly, to help them and their families take back their dignity. Yet, I must admit to my conscience: it is impossible to keep my faith and carry out my work, without the protection from a democratic system.
If we would accept the political reform proposal from the National People’s Congress, the government would only have the interests of the business sector in mind, as they are the few but powerful nominators. It implies universal labour rights, such as standard working hours, right to collective bargaining, universal pension fund, would continue to be “blocked” by the functional constituencies. When the roads are occupied, bailiff and the police would conduct the clearance, yet, what happen if our democratic rights and labour rights are “blocked”? If we don’t join force, who can clear up this government?
In future, we might encounter more arrests and accusations, but we are not going to back off. The independent labour movement is determined to fight for genuine universal suffrage and we will take up the responsibility with other civil society organizations, to plant the seeds of democracy throughout our network. We are aiming at a bottom up social reform, with democratisation of labour relations and building up democratic unions as our strategies. We will fight till we win.
Dec 12 2014
[Read in our website]